Irish Water-a lifeline for Building Control?

by Bregs Blog admin team


During the debate concerning the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations (SI.9 of 2014) a lot of commentators, this blog included, have dug up statistics showing the low numbers of site inspections, understaffing levels at local authority building control sections etc. We acknowledged a number of hard-working fire officers double-jobbing at building control to help out.  However we also were quite critical noting that just a few years ago some areas of the country received less than 2% inspection rates from local authority building control. Some received none at all.

What was overlooked was the rather impressive performance targets set by the Department and the County Managers for the Building Control Officer (BCO).

A rate of 15% site inspections has been the target for some years for building control inspections nationwide. In their wisdom the Department has set this figure which has been passed down by the head of each local authority, the county managers to their staff. Let’s look at this for one moment.

Recently Tom Parlon in an RTE interview was very upbeat about the construction industry output for this year 2014 increasing for the first time in years to €11.5bn.

A 15% inspection rate of a €11.5bn industry, for 67 staff, equates to one Building control officer inspecting €171 Million worth of buildings per year; for each officer!. That ranges from once-off houses, kitchen extensions, retail parks, stadia, shopping centres, places of worship- the lot. That’s a pretty impressive target. During the “celtic tiger” years this figure was three times that. I wonder are there any performance targets as ambitious as those set for any other public servants? For Irish Water?

We have estimated previously the number of full time inspectors needed to staff a properly resourced local authority building control inspectorate at around 300. This would match the UK provision (based on output) and achieve 100% inspections. That’s around 230 new personnel on top of the depleted 70 or so already desperately under-resourced and overworked BCO’s. Apparently Irish water are over-resourced by over 2,000 staff. Many of these are experienced civil engineers with years of site inspection experience that could quickly and relatively easily be upskilled. Why not, just to get the system up and running,  employ 500 additional BCO’s, just in case we’re out on our calculations. We seem to have the personnel. According to Tom Parlon 1 in 4 on the dole are ex-construction sector workers so one could assume the BCO posts could rapidly be filled.

Could there possibly be help very close to hand for the poor overworked BCO? Could an independent local authority building control section capable of 100% inspections nationwide be that easy to establish quickly and with little expense? Could the consumer get proper independent regulation of the construction industry for the first time in 22 years?

Perhaps some of the experienced site inspectors in Irish Water could be “diverted” into Building Control Sections one wonders?

The above opinion piece was submitted by Maoilíosa Mel Reynolds on 29th January 2014.